Rome advice - high-end or not?
Everything's changed for my trip to rome so basically I start planning again. And I have this pressing question: we are in Rome for 3 nights only. Should we oe should we not include a high-end place?
The question is two-fold. First, I don't know much about Lazio / Roman cuisine. I know Veneto and Tuscan cuisine quite well, and I've been to Umbria and Sicily and experienced some of their dishes. But I've never experienced culinary Rome (in my student days it was supermaket bread and bananas for us). So is it worth it for me to go to a high-end place or should I stick with basic trattorias for recognition and leave upmarket sophistication to a later visit?
Secondly, if I choose an up-market place, which should it be? Elisabeth kindly recommended Metamorfosi and Glass and I read up on All'Oro. I've already dismissed Glass because it seems a sacreledge to me to eat fusion in Italy. I know next to nothing about Metamorfosi and All'Oro seems to me quite heavy for the sophisticated lightness that I've come to expect from high-end restaurants. Basically I like to eat fresh and flavorfull and sophisticated, but I don't want to feel extremely full at the end of a 12 course tasting menu. Filling and heavy is a jib for trattorias in my book. I also want to eat Roman or at least Italian food, not French or Thai.
The restaurants that I plan to eat in on the other nights: First is Cesare al Casaletto and last would be either Nino or more probably a choice from Dittirambo, Settimio, Gigetto or Da Gino, all fairly close to our place (except for Gino). So as I understand it, all fairly basic and heavy food trattorias.
Another consideration is this: recently I've become remarkably blase about high-end food that is not up to scratch, even to the point of being ashamed of myself. I find lots of chefs to be guilty of over-complicating things and messing up because they try something that is out of their capabilities. I like if a chef knows his/her limits and cooks with passion the things he loves. So the restaurant must have a chef like that if I should visit it at all.
So please help me decide - should I go to Metamorfosi or All'Oro or skip them altogether for a trattoria? Thanks for your opinions!
It seems to me that it really depends on your expectations vs. Roman expectations. Here's the thing: Romans are really no different from anyone else in that when it comes to *local*, *authentic* cuisine they are almost always looking for something good-value (large portion size, cheap price, reasonably made), rather than high-end - because if they want the best of "home" cooking they'll get it...at home. If they want something genuinely high-end, they are typically looking for something more experimental and un-traditional.
So even the more "traditional" high-end places (e.g. Il Convivio Troiani, Agata e Romeo) will diverge from rigorous authenticity in the name of creativity and interest. That's not to say you won't find variations on traditional dishes; you will, but generally modified at least to some degree to add some sort of "twist". In some ways, the price of this - which is true world-wide - is a sort of homogenisation of top-end restaurants, so that their regional character diminishes and restaurants ever approach a generic "international" style, but this is the impact of human expectation.
As long as you're in the city for a few days, there's no conflict between choosing local and authentic one day, high-end and experimental another. I'd definitely go with one "high-end" place - if I have to choose one it's definitely Il Pagliaccio - and then find at least one place that's rigorously authentic, and have the best of both worlds.
IMO, it is always fun, if not funnier to try high restaurants like Metamorphosi when eating in a country where most/all of the food is quite traditional like Italian.
I went to Metamorphosi last September and it was very good, some dishes were traditional, some were re-interpretation, some were more modern.
It sounds like you've given this plenty of thought!
I wouldn't call Glass fusion. It's definitely 'creative' but then again, so are Metamorfosi, All'Oro and La Pergola.
La Pergola is a completely other level, and you're paying as much for all the pomp and circumstance as you are for the food itself (which is great) but not sure you really need or want to do that in Rome.
I have to admit that although I'm a huge fan of all'Oro, I don't like their new space one bit. It is basically in the lobby of a hotel and feels cold and impersonable and not at all Roman.
I love Metamorfosi, and you won't feel heavy if you go for one of their shorter tasting menus. It's truly excellent on every level.
Glass, Metamorfosi, Il Pagliaccio and some of the other high-end places should not be on your list because they are the least connected with the local tradition. If you're thinking of eliminating All'Oro because it sounds heavy, I really don't know what to say except Don't have the baccalà antipasto. Otherwise "heavy" is not an adjective I would have used. If you want one place that's a couple of cuts above the others on your list (exc Cesare, where I haven't been yet), I'd go to one of the good places that maintains an awareness of tradition -- the ones that come to mind are Il Convivio, Antonello Colonna, Agata e Romeo, and maybe Al Ceppo. But you might find them heavy and we're back where we started. To answer your closing questions, I would say, skip Metamorfosi (which I like, but I live here), but keep All'Oro in the running and don't miss the Rocher of coda alla vaccinara, and don't think about whether they're heavy.
BTW, someone will probably protest and say that Glass is really tuned in to local food or something, but it has an international style and I think it is not appropriate for your requirements (I have written here that I don't like it, which is true, but that isn't the point).
There is no comparison. La Pergola is a three-star restaurant with all the trimmings. All'Oro is almost casual, certainly more intimate (though I haven't been to the new hq), but the chef is very good with nifty takes on traditional dishes. The price difference would probably be in the hundreds of euros, and on a short trip, if I had no particular reason to go to La Pergola, except possibly to "collect" three-stars, I would give it a pass. If it were in the centro, I might find the decision more difficult, if, of course, money were no object.
Here's a link to our blog reports of meals at Glass and Metamorfosi in January -
Glass - I wouldn't describe our meal as "fusion":
Metamorfosi (plus pics of our apartment!):
I appreciate your blase feelings - we confess to them as well but really enjoyed both Glass and Metamorfosi.
(Trip report under construction now - will post soon)
If you want a very upscale, really spectacular meal Metamorfosi really can not be beaten. Everything about it is a slick, professional, pleasure. It is slightly out of the way, but an easy taxi ride. Even my non-foodie, would-eat-rice and-beans-every-day husband loved it and would return.
At the complete other end of the spectrum is Settimio, rustic and basic and also fabulous. I just had dinner last week at Giggetto and it is one of my go-to faves for a simple plate of pasta and glass of wine.
Hope that helps a bit.